Victor Feldman - Part 2: From Cannonball to Russia
Mike Hennessey,in his insert notes to Dynavibes: The Jeff Hamilton Trio featuring Frits Landesbergen (Mons, 1997), comments that Landesbergen, the excellent Dutch drummer who plays vibes on this album, " ... also has a high regard for the late Victor Feldman. He says: 'Victor was a great, all- round musician who played piano, vibes and drums and who was a fine composer and arranger. I think his vibraphone playing was more advanced harmonically than most other players."
Victor had one of the most astute harmonic minds in jazz, a gift that would be exemplified in his ability to re-harmonize something as pedestrian as "Basin Street Blues," as well as to infuse interesting harmonies with advanced rhythmic structures to create tunes like "Joshua" and "Seven Steps to Heaven."
Returning to the Keepnews interview, Orrin implied that Victor's hiring by Cannonball validated him on the New York jazz scene. For example, it made possible Victor's own release on Riverside of Merry Olde Soul (1960) as well as his appearance on other Riverside albums such as those by tenor-flutist James Clay and bassist Sam Jones, who even named one of his Riverside dates after Victor's tune"The Chant." On this album, Victor shared principal arranging responsibility with Jimmy Heath.
The driving force behind much of this activity was Cannonball, who had become a kind of ex officio artists & repertoire man for Orrin at Riverside. One of the reasons for Cannonball's status in this regard, according to Orrin, was that, unlike many musicians, "Cannonball was extremely articulate and therefore able to express his ideas very clearly. Cannonball's approval of Victor's playing and his work gained for him instant acceptance with me and some of the giants of the music, including Miles Davis, who had tremendous respect for Cannon."
Orrin further reflected that had Victor remained in the New York area, the natural course of events would have been such that he would have made a major mark on the Jazz scene. As it was, Miles Davis looked him up when he went to "the Coast" in 1963, and the result was the Seven Steps to Heaven album.
However, the rigors of traveling which impacted adversely on his recent marriage to Marilyn and the monetary lure of the Hollywood studios proved too great and he returned to Los Angeles in 1961.
Since we all live the consequences of our choices, instead of dwelling on "what-might-have-been," let's spend time on the recordings that Victor did make while with Cannonball, in concert with others and those he made as a leader, as this is a wonderfully productive period in his career.
In their 1963 interview, Victor shared with John Tynan: "Actually, my first gig with Adderley's band was the 1960 Monterey Jazz Festival [held in September of every year]. I remember, we played 'Dis Here' [a Bobby Timmons tune and Cannonball's earliest "hit recording"] and I got lost on it."
Ironically, when Victor began his recorded tenure with Cannonball the following month, it landed him right back at his old stomping groundsThe Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach, California. As Orrin Keepnews commented in his insert notes to The Cannonball Adderley Quintet at The Lighthouse (Riverside /Landmark, 1960):
"This was Victor's first recording with Cannonball's quintet ...and the zest he adds to an already highly- charged unit is certainly among the highlights here."
This is not hyperbole on Keepnews' part as Victor's presence is felt throughout this album be it in the form of the I-dare-you-not-to-tap-your-foot during his five solo choruses on Jimmy Heath's "Big P," a blues tribute to bassist big brother, Percy, or be it in the form of his intriguing original composition "Exodus" with its modal vamp and its circle-of-fifths bridge and which also has Julian saying "Yeah, Vic" to his brilliantly constructed solo on the tune, or be it in the form of his masterful comping on "What is This Thing Called Love?," the evergreen that closes out the album (a classic example of Victor "drumming" from the piano chair).
And on this album, it's easy to discern that one year and one month after the Blackhawk sessions recorded with Shelly Manne's quintet, Victor's piano chops had come a long way as the improvised lines just flow from his right hand. As is exemplified on "Azul Serape," the other original by Victor that Cannonball included in this album, this time the block chord rhythmic riffs are interspersed throughout the piano solo and the "tag" that ends the tune instead of being relied on to complete the solo. Victor has more stamina and control while at the keyboard, and there's little doubt that both of these skills would continue to grow as a result of his time with Cannon.